In recent years the string of high quality retro-themed indie games have really impressed me. And when we got Shovel Knight I believe the bar for the genre was set. Tight controls, superb sprite work and a fantastic soundtrack, it was evident how much love and attention went into making Shovel Knight the modern day classic it became. In comes Alwa’s Awakening, the latest game to try and win the hearts of retro game enthusiasts. And while it does nail a lot of what made the classics so great, there are some key ingredients that were overlooked.
You take the role of Zoe, a young girl who has magically been transported to the world of Alwa- a once prosperous land that has been enslaved by an evil entity known as Vicar. You wake up in this foreign world to find you were summoned by Saga- a mysterious elderly woman. Saga proceeds to tells you of a mystical staff that you must acquire in order to defeat the evil Vicar who is plaguing the land. After acquiring your new staff, you head for the nearest town where you are set on yet another quest of finding a green gemstone. This is the basic formula of Alwa’s Awakening, finding new gemstones and defeating bosses to traverse to new areas.
Riding on the tried-and-true formula of the metroidvania genre, acquiring new items that help you reach new locations that were once unreachable is abundant. Once you get the green gemstone you’ll be able to essentially double-jump your way to a multitude of new areas. Traversing the world of Alwa’s Awakening can feel like a chore or a damn good time. Having so many paths available from the get go would usually make me salivate as I love the freedom of exploration, but the odd placement of save points make dying all too common. Dying wouldn’t be a big deal if finding save points wasn’t such a daunting task. With only three hearts in your life bar, I’ve lost more than half an hour of progress because of there not being a clear indication of where the next save point might be.
Visually Alwa’s Awakening hit the mark. Everything from the characters to the backgrounds nails the retro theme that the developers were going for. All of the pixel art is consistent and holds together throughout the games various environments. There were a few instances where I noticed an area with a sprite that was questionably black, which left me unsure if this was a glitch or an oversight. Regardless, those aren’t prominent whatsoever and I only noticed about two areas possibly missing a sprite.
Sound design can make or break a game for me. I hold classic game music to a high standard and consider it to be one of the most important aspects of a 2D game. Luckily Alwa’s Awakening doesn’t dissapoint and does a good job at capturing the essence of the 8-bit era. Every area has a central theme that loops but doesn’t get old or annoying. Beeps and boops are apparent through the game, all the crunchy and crisp sounds you’d expect from an 8-bit inspired game are abundant in the game. One gripe I have with the sound design is the jumping sound. There’s something about the jump sound effect that doesn’t sit well with me. It may sound a bit petty, but it was a big turn-off with how much jumping you do in the game.
Being a platformer you would expect the jump mechanics to have been fine-tuned to perfection, but that isn’t the case in Alwa’s Awakening. Jumping feels floaty and you don’t have much control with jump height. This in turn leaves you over jumping certain obstacles and getting hit by enemy attacks you’d otherwise have avoided. Such a major design flaw really left me a bit bitter since most everything else shows such promise.
Ultimately, Alwa’s Awakening is still a beautiful game and worthy of a playthrough. While I didn’t enjoy how floaty the combat and platforming are, the game is still very much a treat to fans of old-school classics. Packed full of nods and homages to NES classics, I enjoyed catching all the references made to the games I grew up with. If the developers could have given the gameplay the same level of detail the visuals received we might have had the next Shovel Knight on our hands. But with what we got I’d label Alwa’s Awakening as good when it was so close to being great.
Release Date - February 2, 2017
Special thanks to Elden Pixels for providing a review code